City Councilwoman Stephanie Orman was elected mayor of Bentonville last night.
She handily topped the Walton-backed candidate, Jim Webb, in a runoff. Orman got 3,226 votes (63 percent) to 1,873 votes (37 percent) for Webb.
In addition to Walton money, an unprecedented amount of dark money flowed into this ostensibly nonpartisan local race from an out of state Republican group backing Webb.
The D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee poured $40,000 into the race with fliers promoting Webb. The corporate-backed political group discloses little about its finances in Arkansas.
The RSLC is the same group successfully backed Shawn Womack in his race for Arkansas Supreme Court in 2016, with a series of ham-fisted attacks on his opponent, Clark Mason. And it’s the same group poured $1 million worth of slimy ads this year into the nominally partisan race for a Supreme Court, backing the Republican political hack Donald Sterling against Courtney Goodson. Goodson won. This year, the outside money keeps getting.
The RSLC gets in a tizzy if you refer to their funding as “dark money” because the 527 group files reports with the IRS about contributors — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tobacco companies, drug companies, payday lenders, Koch Industries among them. But their state filings include no specific information on their activities in Arkansas other than the lump sum put in to the race. There is no itemization and no information about who might have contributed the money that got spent on this little race in Bentonville. The groups says that money it receives from donors can’t be earmarked to a specific race, so there’s no way to specify where the money that got spent in Arkansas came from. Okay. But did any of their fatcat contributors in particular happen to suggest that maybe the group should focus on this particular mayor’s race in this particular small city in the Ozarks? On that question we remain, shall we say, in the dark.
In the November general election, Webb got 42 percent to 40 percent for Orman in a five-candidate field to force the runoff. Webb raised more contributions than the other four candidates combined, with heavy backing from businesses aligned with Walton interests. On top of that, the RSCL spent more on behalf of Webb than the other candidates combined.
Outgoing Mayor Bob McCaslin backed Orman and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette endorsed her.
Webb, a senior national account manager for Walmart and Sam’s Club, had previously spent three years on the Bentonville City Council.
A couple of other runoff results in local races in Northwest Arkansas to note:
Sonia Gutierrez won a Ward 1 seat on the Fayetteville City Council, topping Olivia Trimble 571 (67 percent) to 283 (33 percent).
Teresa Turk ousted incumbent City Councilman John La Tour for the Ward 4 seat. It was another blowout, with 1,181 for Turk (66 percent) to 613 for La Tour (34 percent).